24 September 2012

The Polish Nose

The Polish Nose is a new pierogi cart that operated for the first time at Independents' Day. Proprietor Brandon Wilburn prepares Polish dumplings in traditional and not-so-traditional flavor combinations with a variety of condiments served on the side.

Wilburn said that his great grandfather was Polish, and that he has fond memories of eating pierogi as a child. He figures that since pierogi are a versatile dumpling, it provides a nice palette on which to experiment with flavors. 

Experiments aside, the Old Faithful is, of course, a traditional potato and cheese dumpling flecked with garlic and served with a side of caramelized onions and sour cream or Greek yogurt. The dumplings are fried on the griddle to give them the traditional texture and flavor. The filling was soft, and the potatoes and cheese were sweetened slightly by the roasted garlic.

The Pumpkin Poser was a sweet potato pie pierogi. While dessert pierogi are common in Polish restaurants, this puts a Southern fried spin on the category. It is somewhat reminiscent of pumpkin pie. It is served with whipped cream and graham cracker crumbles.

Wilburn plans to operate the Polish Nose at a few bars and events in the future on a limited basis, possibly even preparing pierogi for a kitchen to sell. He said a brick-and-mortar location might be in the cards for the future, but for now, he'll operate a food cart and keep his full-time job. Updates on the cart's location can be found on Facebook.

These two pierogi are acceptable for vegetarians to eat. There was a third pierogi on the menu that contained meat that was prepared on the same griddle. Wilburn said that he had experimented with vegan pierogi dough, and mentioned that he might consider making vegan dough in the future, but he had to test the recipes.

Polish Nose Mobile Food Truck on Urbanspoon

13 September 2012

Merlion Noodle and Rice

Merlion Noodle and Rice is a restaurant that specializes in the cuisine of Malaysia and Singapore. Since I am a vegetarian who has never eaten the food from these countries, I decided to head up Clintonville to see what they serve to those who like to eat food without a face.

The cuisine of Singapore and Malaysia is an interesting hodge podge that combines influences from the cultures that surround them. There are Chinese, Indonesian and Indian elements to dishes, and they can be rooted in some or all of these cuisines.  

There are not a tremendous amount of vegetarian dishes at Merlion. There are five vegetarian appetizers, which include vegetable spring rolls, tofu nuggets, sesame tofu, edamame and fried eggplant. There is one vegetarian entree on the dinner menu. The hot plate tofu is prepared with pork. There are a number of traditional Chinese tofu dishes on the lunch menu.

The fried eggplant is prepared with a delightful breading that is thick and soft yet delightfully crunchy. The thick pieces of eggplant soak up the sweet and sour dipping sauce. 

The clay pot tofu is a traditional preparation of tofu and Chinese vegetables in a mild brown sauce. The triangles of tofu are tossed with onions, carrots, baby corn, water chestnuts and bok choy. The dish is slow cooked in an oven in an adorable Hello, Kitty clay pot. 

The slow cooking gives the tofu a crisp exterior with a soft interior. The vegetables are steamed during the cooking process. The bok choy in particular has a great texture that walks a fine line between supple and crunchy. The sauce has a nice flavor, but it could benefit from a little more seasoning or a greater reduction. 

The restaurant is small. It seats about 20. The staff is friendly. They speak English as a second language, so obtaining information about ingredients in dishes requires persistence.

The house-made beverages at Merlion are excellent. The soy milk has a round, clean flavor. The ginger tea is bright and herbaceous. 

While there isn't a tremendous amount of vegetarian food at Merlion, the fresh ingredients combined with exotic flavors make it definitely worth a second look.

Merlion Noodle & Rice on Urbanspoon

06 September 2012

Pera Fresh Food

Pera Fresh Food is a fast-casual Mediterranean eatery located in the old Ali Baba space on campus. As would be expected, they serve inexpensive, healthy Middle Eastern eats on the fly.

Where Ali Baba offered a full service menu that focused on variety, Pera makes a small number of healthy lunchtime standards. 

The set-up at Pera is similar to Chipotle, where customers choose combinations of rice and vegetables as the foundation of their bowl, salad or flatbread wrap. Prices are reasonable. Falafel wraps are less than $5 at select times.

 The wraps are made on lavash bread that is warmed in the oven when ordered. It can be customized with veggies, including cucumbers, black olives, onions, spinach, tomatoes and more, as well as sauces like tzatziki, hummus and harissa. The falafel lacked a little crispiness, but had a pleasant flavor. The wrap is a full lunch if a side dish is added.

The hummus has a deep herbal flavor that also picks up spice from the dollop of harissa that floats on its surface. While the hummus is good, it is difficult to eat in the shallow take-out cup in which it is served, and it is challenging to order because bread must be ordered on the side a la carte. Bread probably should be included in the purchase price.

Desserts mostly lacked character. The rice pudding was bland and mealy. The baklava was good, but wasn't fresh or house-made.

Overall, service at Pera is fast. The prices are reasonable, but considering that most Mediterranean food is inexpensive, Pera may find it difficult to stand out. A plethora of restaurants have opened in the past few years that make better food for essentially the same price. 

Pera Fresh Istanbul Food on Urbanspoon